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Alan Turing’s ‘Imitation Game’ paper on artificial intelligence sells for £1,250

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

An academic journal from 1950 containing a seminal essay on computer intelligence by British codebreaker Alan Turing has sold for £1,250 (approx $1,970) on AbeBooks.co.uk. Turing, who cracked the German secret code in World War II, is currently being played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie, The Imitation Game.

Turing wrote a paper titled ‘Computer Machinery and Intelligence’ that appeared in the October 1950 issue of Mind, which reviews developments in philosophy and is still published today. Turing basically asks if machines can think.

The October 1950 issue of Mind containing Alan Turing’s paper on ‘Computer Machinery and Intelligence’

The paper details the so called ‘Turing Test’ which measures a machine’s ability to show intelligence equivalent to that of a human. Based on a party game, Turing called his test ‘the Imitation Game’ where two contestants – a man and a woman – both try to convince an observer, via typed messages alone, into thinking that they are actually the woman.  Turing allows for the replacement of the male contestant with a computer program, which is classified as intelligent if it performs as well as the man in fooling the observer.

Turing’s essay goes on to examine the major objections against the advancement of artificial intelligence.

The journal was sold by Rudi Thoemmes Rare Books from Bristol. Collectors have been fascinated with Turing’s work for some years – another copy of this particular issue of Mind was sold by AbeBooks for £1,400 in 2012 – but the film, starring Cumberbatch, is once again putting his work into the spotlight.

More expensive rare Alan Turing items can be found on AbeBooks.co.uk. Another of his paper’s, The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis, is available from a bookseller in Denmark for more than £24,000. This paper, which examines how patterns are formed in biology, was published in 1952 in a journal published by Cambridge University Press.

A third paper, On Computable Numbers, is available for £18,500. Published in 1936 by the London Mathematical Society, this paper – arguably his most famous – serves as the foundation for modern computing.

Turing worked at Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre, during World War II. It is believed Turing’s work to decipher the German secret code shortened the war by several years.

Born in London in 1912, Turing was prosecuted for being homosexual in 1952 and accepted chemical castration instead of a prison sentence. He died the same year from cyanide poisoning, in what is believed to have been suicide. In 2009, then-prime minister Gordon Brown apologised for Britain’s treatment of Turing. Not least from helping to end World War II, the mathematician’s work in computer science makes him one of the founding fathers of artificial intelligence.

The Imitation Game movie, directed by Morten Tyldum, also stars Keira Knightley and Charles Dance. It opened in the UK on Friday and opens in the USA on November 28.

Six Classic Novels about Comets

In the Days of the Comet by HG Wells

Yesterday, the robot probe Philae landed on a comet after travelling for four billion miles and 10 years to reach it. The comet, named 67P, is more than four billion years old and is hurtling through space at 40,000 mph.

It’s no wonder that authors – including those masters of fiction, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells – have been fascinated with comets for a long time. Most writers seem interested by what would happen if a comet hits our planet (God forbid).

Here’s six comet-themed novels for your enjoyment.

In the Days of the Comet  by H.G. Wells (1906) A science fiction novel where a comet causes the nitrogen in the atmosphere to become breathable. The effect is that humanity becomes happier after breathing in this new type of air.  The story focuses on a psychology teacher whose thoughts turn towards marriage.

Hector Servadac or the Career of a Comet (also called Off on a Comet) by Jules Verne (1877) A comet called Gallia collides with Earth on January 1 and shears off a chunk of our planet, carrying away 36 humans of varying nationalities. Of course, everything is different on the comet – different gravity, water boils at 66 degrees, and east and west has changed sides. All very confusing but this small group soldiers on.

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson (1946) Everyone knows this one. The second in the Moomin series features the first appearance Snufkin and the Snork Maiden. Moomintroll, Sniff and Snufkin set sail towards the Lonely Mountains and visit an observatory where a professor tells them that a comet is going to collide with Earth. They hurry back, thinking that the end is nigh. More adventures ensue. The English translation was published in 1951.

Tomorrow’s Comet by Lewis Sowden (1951) A comet approaches the Earth and all life is doomed. This story concentrates on the psychological effects of this knowledge.

People of the Comet by Austin Hall (1951) A space age romance first published as ‘Hop o’ My Thumb’ in Weird Tales in 1923.  The solar system turns out to be an atom within a macro-universe. Lovely cover artwork by Jack Gaughan.

The Year of the Comet by John Christopher

The Year of the Comet (also called Planet in Peril) by John Christopher (1955) The author’s real name was Sam Youd and he was a famed science fiction writer.

This novel is set in a world run by two all-powerful companies, Atomics and Telecoms. Youd is best known for writing The Death of Grass and the young adult series The Tripods.

If you are looking for some non-fiction, then Carl Sagan has written about comets. I also love this etching of a comet spotted in 1853.

How America looked to a mapmaker in 1746

Map of America in 1746

Map of America 2

The decorative cartouche featuring Native Americans and two volcanoes

Where’s Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, Alberta?

This beautiful map of America is offered for sale by Peter Harrington for £1,500. It was printed in 1746 in Nuremberg and caught my eye because so much of North America is simply missing. The west coast is simply California – no Washington State or Oregon. And as for Canada – no British Columbia or Alberta. That’s just a void – a big white space. In 1746, most of the action was going on in Scotland with the end of the Jacobite Rebellion led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. This period was still a time of exploration in the Americas. A permanent Jesuit mission had been established in Baja, California, in 1697 but geography was still largely unknown.

What the Boss reads: Bruce Springsteen’s 30 favourite books

The New York Times recently asked American rock star Bruce Springsteen about favourite books. The Boss admitted that he did not begin reading seriously until he was 28 or 29 because he spent so much time on the road. It sounds like he’s been an avid reader ever since. His taste varies from the classics to Philip Roth and Richard Ford, and some musical non-fiction. The man who sang Born in the USA likes to read Russian literature.

History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell

Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe by Dennis Overbye

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

Examined Lives by James Miller

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

I Married a Communist by Philip Roth

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

Independence Day by Richard Ford

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music by Greil Marcus

Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

Chronicles by Bob Dylan

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Life by Keith Richards

Sonata for Jukebox by Geoffrey O’Brien

Soul Mining: A Musical Life by Daniel Lanois

Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin

Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression by Dale Maharidge

The Big Short by Michael Lewis

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Great Short Works by Leo Tolstoy

The Adventure of Augie March by Saul Bellow

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Autobiography by Eric Clapton

Rarities and Readables from William Shakespeare


Considered the greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare’s works are among the world’s most widely read, most intensely studied, and most passionately collected. From 17th-century first editions of the Second Folio to beautifully bound and illustrated 20th-century limited editions, we’ve hand-picked a selection that has something for everyone.

And remember – neither a borrower nor a lender be – get your own copy.

See the Rare and Collectable Shakespeare Books.

Le Crapouillot – France’s 80-Year Political Satire Magazine

While foraging about the internet’s forest floor to learn all I could about our latest Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Patrick Modiano, I discovered Le Crapouillot. The first discovery was that Modiano had contributed to an issue of a magazine about drugs. The actual title of the issue was: “LSD une bombe atomique dans la tête” (“LSD: An atomic bomb in the head”). The issue was Crapouillot #71, and came out in 1966, when Modiano was 21. The cover is really something to behold. The quote below the cover image translates roughly to: “[i]t hurts … I’m hot … flowers … oh, it’s beautiful …. I have to come back …. oh, no! it’s getting terrible…” – look at that poor woman’s face!:


Crapoillot no 7: LSD


Clearly, this was a magazine I needed to investigate further.

Le Crapouillot (the word is a variation on the French word “Crapaud” or “little toad”) was a French political magazine which ran for more than 80 years, from 1915 until its final issue in 1996. The magazine was begun by French soldier and controversial journalist Jean Galtier-Boissiere, who originally intended it as a trench paper, just for his peers in the military. He created it, in part, out of his belief in a need for a balanced view of French soldiers, after being offended and taken aback by the depictions and caricatures he saw in the media. Le Crapouillot promised early on to address the authentic, first-hand stories of French soldiers, from their perspectives. The insolent, irreverent and fearless publication soon proved so popular, however, that by 1925 it was a monthly distribution, with an ever-expanding subscriber list.

In its 80 year run, Le Crapouillot varied widely in its insights and opinions, striving to seek the truth and to publish without censorship or fear of reprisal. That bold attitude resulted in a fantastic series of historical snapshots, with issues addressing so many social, political and economic struggles throughout the century. For instance, the July, 1933 issue, “Hitler, est-ce la guerre?” (“Hitler, is This War?”) explored in detail the personality of Adolf Hitler, his intentions, and his possible trajectory, despite being published very early into Hitler’s rise to power.


Le Crapouillot was unusual at the time, as it devoted each issue to one sole subject to focus on, and nothing was off the table. Art, sexuality, drugs, the economy, social trends, class warfare, and of course politics – everything had its moment within the pages of the magazine. Le Crapouillot enjoyed enough traction to attract the attention of some larger publications, and was given a nod in a December, 1935 issue of Time Magazine as a “Paris muckraker” worth exploring. (What is muckraking?)

In its later years, publication frequency was fitful, irregular and unreliable. By the time the magazine folded in 1996, it had become a staunchly conservative, right-wing publication. But for any magazine collecting enthusiast or French history buff, the back issues of Le Crapouillot are a unique goldmine of information to explore – a time capsule of nearly an entire century of France’s social development. Copies are, for the most part, surprisingly affordable, as well.

There are well over 2,000 issues of Le Crapouillot available for sale on AbeBooks, ranging in price from £1 all the up to £1000, with a median asking price of approximately £9.

Neil Gaiman’s Literary Hero


Latest in the “My hero” series from The Guardian is a bit from Neil Gaiman. We love Neil Gaiman here, and it’s been fun watching the trajectory of his career over the last couple of decades. I first became aware of Gaiman in 1991 when my sister lent me Good Omens, a novel he co-wrote with the equally brilliant Terry Pratchett. Gaiman’s wry, dark humour balanced Pratchett’s good-natured nerdiness perfectly, and the novel has made me laugh more than most other printed material. From there I sought out and read the Sandman comics by way of the collected volumes, beginning with Preludes and Nocturnes.

Gaiman is one of the authors who has best embraced the trend toward social media in recent years, using it as a way to interact with fans, engage fellow authors and bounce ideas around. Gaiman has been the recipient of several Hugo awards and Nebula awards, the Ray Bradbury award and many other honors and recognitions. He also has an absolutely loyal and devoted legion of fans. He’s a personable fellow, a prolific author and an interesting interview, as well. And who is his literary hero? Unsurprisingly, given the gothic nature of much of Gaiman’s work, he chose Mary Shelley. While gothic fiction was already quite firmly established at the time Shelley wrote Frankenstein, Gaiman contends that it broke new ground, and changed everything.

More at The Guardian.

Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North 2014 Booker Winner


The votes are in!

Congratulations to Australian author Richard Flanagan, whose novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North has been announced the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Not only is Flanagan now £50,000 richer, but he is now virtually guaranteed to be in the eye of the literary community, and with a full calendar of readings for at least a few years to come. We’ll all be watching for what’s next. Here is some more about The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. His life is a daily struggle to save the men under his command from starvation, cholera and pitiless beatings. Until he receives a letter that will change him forever. Moving deftly from the POW camp to contemporary Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo and his comrades to those of the Japanese guards, this novel tells a story of love, death, and family, exploring the many forms of good and evil, war and truth, and guilt.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is Flanagan’s sixth novel, preceded by Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish, The Unknown Terrorist and Wanting.

Currently, signed copies of The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan are affordable and not too scarce, but if you want one, act immediately because announcements like these do tend to see copies disappearing and prices skyrocketing.

The Booker Prize was first awarded in 1969, and goes to the judges’ determination of best English language full-length novel published in the UK.

Kudos as well to the five runners-up:

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first 18years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she says. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my fun-house mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”

J by Howard Jacobson
J by Howard Jacobson
Set in the future, J is a love story of incomparable strangeness, both tender and terrifying. Two people fall in love, not yet knowing where they have come from or where they are going. Kevern doesn t know why his father always drew two fingers across his lips when he said a world starting with a J. It isn’t the time or place to be asking questions. Ailinn too has grown up in the dark about who she was or where she came from. On their first date Kevern kisses the bruises under her eyes. Brutality has grown commonplace.Hanging over the lives of all the characters in this novel is a momentous catastrophe – a past event shrouded in suspicion, denial and apology, now referred to as What Happened, If It Happened. J is a novel to be talked about in the same breath as Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World.

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
It is 1967, Calcutta. Unnoticed by his family, Supratik has become dangerously involved in student unrest, agitation, extremist political activism. Compelled by an idealistic desire to change his life and the world around him, all he leaves behind is this note. ‘Ma, I feel exhausted with consuming, with taking and grabbing and using. I am so bloated that I feel I cannot breathe any more. I am leaving to find some air, some place where I shall be able to purge myself, push back against the life given me and make my own. I feel I live in a borrowed house. It’s time to find my own… — Forgive me…’.’

How to be Both by Ali Smith / signed copies
How to Be Both by Ali Smith
A novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There s a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real – and all life’s givens get given a second chance. Smith can make anything happen, which is why she is one of our most exciting writers today .

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris / signed copies
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
Paul O’Rourke is a man made of contradictions: he loves the world, but doesn’t know how to live in it. He’s a Luddite addicted to his iPhone, a dentist with a nicotine habit, a rabid Red Sox fan devastated by their victories, and an atheist not quite willing to let go of God. Then someone begins to impersonate Paul online, and he watches in horror as a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account are created in his name. What begins as an outrageous violation of his privacy soon becomes something more soul-frightening: the possibility that the online Paul might be a better version of the real thing.

Patrick Modiano Wins 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature

Paris Tendresse, Patrick Modiano, Brassai

French novelist Patrick Modiano has won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature. Modiano, 69, is no stranger to accolades. His previous awards include the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 2012, as well as a lifetime achievement award in 2010 from the Institut de France. Individual novels have also been recognised, including the highly prized Goncourt Prize for his book “Missing Person“. “Missing Person” is perhaps also Modiano’s best-known work, though the historical author is quite prolific, with nearly 30 published works so far. If you’re looking to read Patrick Modiano books written in English, there are far fewer copies available, but there are still enough to get a great start on his catalog.

While he himself was not born until 1945, much of Modiano’s work is nevertheless inspired by the Nazi occupation of France. Much of his finest writing details, down to the minutiae, the lives of regular French citizenry and the impact the war had on their day-to-day lives. His writing’s uniqueness comes, in part, from a balance between highly detailed, highly thorough description of the mundane, and a sense of mystery and ambiguity for situations and plotlines. That fondness for mystery has coined him his very own literary term. In France, if a scenario or character is particularly open-ended, it can be said to be “modianesque”.

Despite his popularity, prolific output and celebrated success, Modiano himself is sadly not as thrilled with his choice of profession as his fans are. He has stated for the media in the past that his writing is more a curse than a gift to him, that he feels feverishly compelled to write and dreams of being free of the burden.

remise-de-peine-modiano While perhaps not as well-known as last year’s winner Alice Munro, Modiano is nonetheless a more far-reaching choice than some winners in previous years. If you’re not familiar with him or his work, you’re probably not French – while Modiano is a lesser-known name elsewhere, within his home country he is very famous and widely regarded as one of France’s best writers. He prefers to stay out of the spotlight, however, and is a very private person, giving few interviews and attending few galas. As such, books signed by Patrick Modiano are extremely rare, with not a single Patrick Modiano autograph for sale on AbeBooks (which is rare indeed).

Some Modiano titles are collectable, and prices are sure to climb with today’s announcement. The most expensive Patrick Modiano book ever sold on AbeBooks was a copy of Remise de Peine. The first edition, limited to 55 numbered copies, sold for £450. I think we can expect to see some more expensive sales in the coming days and weeks.

Modiano is the 15th Nobel Prize-winner of France.

A Gallery of September’s Stunning Sales

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

September’s most expensive sales list includes no fewer than four historically significant, multi-volume sets, including the complete works or Sir Winston Churchill in 38 volumes and Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough in 13 volumes. Also on the list is a first edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, signed by J.K. Rowling, and a beautifully bound 1894 edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Explore our hand-picked gallery of some of the most stunning books sold in September. You’ll find everything from 17th-century philosophy by René Descartes to a deluxe 1963 French edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, illustrated by Salvador Dali.

See the Gallery